The Europa League concludes its brief Round of 32 this week. We won’t be covering all 16 matches, but we will be highlighting a few matchups that are close – at least on paper – and could shuffle up the favorites list heading into the Round of 16.
While Europa League is not packed with the big names of the Champions League, there are still some high quality clubs playing for the title, and with it, an automatic berth in the Group Stage of next season’s Champions League. While four clubs – including favorite Sevilla – have all but clinched a spot in the next round, and Rangers have officially punched their ticket, the other 11 spots remain mostly up for grabs.
How They Got Here
Arsenal finished fifth, a point behind the aforementioned Spurs in last season’s Premier League, just missing on a berth in Champions League. They instead went straight to Europa League’s group stage, winning Group F ahead of Eintracht Frankfurt. After winning their first three group stage games, they went 0-2-1 down the back stretch, needing a loss by Eintracht on Matchday 6 to escape with the group win and a seeded position in the Round of 32.
Olympiacos finished second in last season’s Superleague Greece, which earned them a trip to the second qualifying round of Champions League. They were undefeated through the qualifying rounds, compiling a 5-1-0 record by a combined score of 13-1 over Viktoria Plzeň, İstanbul Başakşehir, and Krasnodar. They did not have as much success in the group stage, finishing a distant third in Group B behind Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur, but still qualified for the Europa League knockout phase as the second-worst third-place club, just ahead of Club Brugge.
Last week, the clubs played an equal match at Karaiskakis Stadium as expected, with Alexandre Lacazette finally putting the Gunners ahead in the 81st minute. The English squad was able to hold on and left Greece with a one goal advantage, as well as an away goal in the bank in case they need a tiebreaker to decide who advances.
Not much has changed since our match last week for the clubs, with both playing a domestic league match over the weekend.
Arsenal maintains its mid-table position in the Premier League, though they did climb to 9th after defeating Everton on Sunday. They remain two points behind Wolverhampton Wanderers in what is likely the last qualifying spot for Europe League next season. With 11 matches left, as well as the FA Cup, they aren’t quite eliminated from UEFA competitions next season, but they need to turn it around sooner rather than later.
Olympiacos maintained its lead in Superleague Greece, and remains undefeated (19-6-0) after defeating PAOK on Sunday. They have already qualified for the “Championship round” which will determine final placement, and should find themselves playing in UEFA again next season, with only the tournament left to be determined.
Never Tell Me the Odds
According to our friends at FiveThirtyEight, Arsenal is favored to advance in this matchup, doing so in 76% of their simulations. This is partly because they are favored as the home club tonight, winning 48% of simulations of tonight’s match. They also have a 5% chance of winning the whole thing, and an 11% chance of returning to the championship game to match last season’s performance.
Will we see another all England final this season? Arsenal looks to take a step in that direction, perhaps joining Wolves – who had a dominant 4-0 win against Espanyol last week – and Manchester United – who kick off at Old Trafford at the same time against Club Brugge – in the Round of 16. Arsenal can do their part to try and make that happen with a win tonight, so we’ll see if they can pull it off.
Until next time…